Health in Europe – Let’s think big (P1)

“Be bold, think big!” – Opening Plenary

“Be bold, think big!” – this was the main message from the talk of Clemens Martin Auer (EHFG, President), who kicked off the 2018 European Health Forum Gastein.

We need to be bold and think big to counteract the general sentiment of the European electorate, worried about the European single market, employment policies, protection of external borders, and migrant policies. Meanwhile, health and social policies are somehow neglected.

The health of the EU, Clemens continued, is not only dependent on our healthcare, our healthcare workforce, our research and our science. On the contrary, social determinants have a strong influence on our health, and the health policy sector should understand that its mission is far beyond healthcare and science. Therefore, a new narrative is needed, to put different market forces into a balance; fortunately, the UN and SDGs have paved the way to recognize the impact of our economies on health, in positive or negative terms.

The message was reinforced by Vytenis Andriukaitis (European Commissioner, Health and Food Safety): out of 17 SDGs, 12 are closely related to nutrition and health. In other words, it becomes extremely clear that health is not a responsibility limited to healthcare professionals. Sharing responsibility for health is crucial, and areas such as food, transport, and education have an enormous impact on our health.

According to Zsuzsanna Jakab (Director, WHO Europe) SDGs are a fantastic opportunity to think big. WHO has put forward the European roadmap and, yearly, it critically assesses the progresses: this is thinking big, at the WHO level! Open challenges are obesity, tobacco control, environmental health and immunization. Beyond these topics, WHO is working on governance and intersectoral collaboration: generally speaking, on health we have good evidence, but not enough action and implementation. Therefore, WHO calls for action on health, sustainable development, intersectoral governance, and basic values, such as solidarity, equity and human rights.

But how can countries think big? For instance, organizing supra-national networks to best handle rare disease (Martin Seychell, DDG Health and Food Safety, European Commission), collecting information at the population level, such as sequencing the population itself – as Estonia is exploring (Riina Sikkut, Minister of Health, Estonia) – tacking disabilities (Liisa-Maria Voipio Pulkki, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland), establishing social policies that impact health, such as housing and working with the unserved communities (Freek Spinnewijn, President, EPHA).

Insofar we focus on challenges, we shouldn’t forget opportunities. As Peter C Smith (University of York, Imperial College Business School, European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies) argued, through the health system we have opportunities to ensure sustainability, thus increasing the ability of a government to maintain public finances at a credible and serviceable position over the long term.

To change mindsets and ensure sustainability, we could think of the healthcare workforce as a source of revenues. Moreover, we could provide solid long-term care and at the same time act on public pensions (long-term care and public pensions are currently about 1.4% and 8% GDP in OECD countries, respectively). Therefore, we need proper experimentation and evaluations, in order to help people into employment, reduce caregiving responsibility and reduce dependence on public services.

Last, but not least, “The European Cancer Patient’s Bill of Rights” has been announced as the European Health Award Winner 2018: a charter to affirm the rights of cancer patients across the EU as cancer doesn’t respect borders.

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Alessandra Lafranconi

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